Braided Learning: a new metaphor for the AI age:

Braided learning: a new metaphor for education in the age of Artificial Intelligence: 

The mismatch between the outcomes of traditional education and the needs of the future is growing rapidly, and many acknowledge that new perspectives are needed. 

Learner centred education, Personalisation of learning, blended learning, learning styles and Heutagogy are all ideas that are being explored. 

In January 2016 Klaus Schwab of the world economic forum suggested that we are entering the 4th Industrial Age which is a fusion of the physical world, the information world and the biological world. The biggest strides that humanity will see will come from the alignment of the biology and information technologies.

I propose here a new metaphor for learning that is suitable for the future, driven by Artificial Intelligence and similar disruptive technologies. 

It is now broadly agreed that narrow specialists of the past ( who knew more and more about less and less) must give way to broad knowledge of a polymath. 

Instead of condemning the “ Jack of all trades but master of none” we are now seeking “ Jill’s of all trades and masters of some”. 

In the age of AI for any specialist knowledge we have solutions that surpass human abilities. But putting together several ideas and techniques into a common structure is the work of humans. 

This is what I am referring to as “ braided learning”. So instead of restricting a learner to 5 subjects at School level, 3 at Unuversity level and 1 at Masters level, a learner can continue to learn the whole spectrum of subjects available at School at all levels as a lifelong learner. 

So if each of the subjects Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology, History, Geography, Languages, Civics, Economics, Psychology…..is a strand of knowledge then the value of this knowledge is not enhanced by tying these strands end to end ( concatenation) but by interweaving them ( braiding) to form a variety of possibilities that are much more valuable  in the coming VUCA ( volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. 

The depth of knowledge and understanding of a given subject may be represented as the thickness of the strand. 

Braids have been made for thousands of years in many different cultures around the world, and for a variety of uses. Traditionally, the materials used in braids have depended on the indigenous plants and animals available in the local area.

When the Industrial Revolution arrived, mechanized braiding equipment was invented to increase production. The braiding technique was used to make ropes with both natural and synthetic fibers, and coaxial cables for radios using copper wire. In more recent times it has been used to create a covering for fuel pipes in jet aircraft and ships, first using glass fibre, then stainless steel and Kevlar. Hoses for domestic plumbing are often covered with stainless steel braid.

Braids are often used figuratively to represent interweaving or combination, such as in, “He braided many different ideas into a new whole.”

Every learner, during the journey of lifelong learning would acquire a number of these strands through formal, informal and experiential learning. Instead of arguing which among these is most valuable and important, let each learner demonstrate his or her uniqueness by suitably braiding them to create a unique persona. 

The main strands:

  • Traditional academic disciplines ( Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Zoology, Botany, Economics, Politics, History, Geography, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Languages) 
  • Technology MegaTrends of the 4th Industrial Age ( Big Data, Blockchain, 3D printing, Internet of Things, Machine Learning) 
  • Learning ( learning how to learn, becoming a better learner, competence, comprehension, cognitive flexibility)
  • Thinking ( creative, critical and Computational)
  • Entrepreneurship ( Innovation, business and finance) 
  • Humanics ( values, ethics, grit, resilience,empathy, )
  • Making ( bricolage)
  • Questioneering ( curiosity)
  • Communication 
  • Philosophy 
  • Performing Arts ( Painting, Sculpture, Music, Dance) 

Lifelong Learners can create their own “ braids”

The most simple and common braid is a flat, solid, three-stranded structure. More complex braids can be constructed from an arbitrary number of strands to create a wider range of structures.

The phrase ‘braided learning’ has been proposed around the year 2007 in the context of emerging processes observed in an e-learning community, where people working in online social groups combine to answer a question or research issue posed. Rather than a homogenized report written in the official-sounding language, the resulting “braided” text comprises individual contributions reflecting each contributor’s unique perspective. 

No effort is made by the learners to develop the kind of overall style that formal reports or academic research documents would traditionally demand. 

Learning is immediate – online responses can be instant – but the knowledge can also be built up over time.

In this piece, I have used braided Learning as a metaphor and as a broad analogy for the learning models of the future.

But the Mathematical rigour of Braided topology is applied to the development of topological quantum computers where braids form the logic gates that make up the computer. Alexei Kitaev proposed topological quantum computation in 1997.

Here is a link to an article by the brilliant Physicist Max Tegmark famous for his books “ Life3.0” and “ Our Mathematical Universe” : 

Life is a braid in space time: http://m.nautil.us/issue/9/time/life-is-a-braid-in-spacetime

The opening lines of an article by JD Watson and FHC Crick in the issue of Nature dated 25th April 1953 begins with “ We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest. “ That idea marked the beginning of the “Biological Revolution.”    

Medicine changed fundamentally and led to  the development of therapies tailored to a patient’s genetic blueprint or by combining biology and technology with brain-controlled prosthetics. 

Perhaps in a few decades, the teaching-learning ecosystems would change to benefit from these ideas of Braided Learning and enable every individual to achieve his/her full potential and add value as a significant member of Society. 

About mmpant

Prof. M.M.Pant has a Ph.D in Computational Physics, along with a Professional Law Degree, and has been a practitioner in the fields of Law, IT enabled education and IT implementation. Drawing upon his experience in world class international institutions and having taught in various modes of Face-to-Face, Distance Learning and Technology Enhanced Training, Prof. Pant is now exploring the nature of institutions which will be successors to the IITs, which represented the 1960s, IIMs, which represented the 1970 and Open Universities which were the rage of 1980s & 90s. He believes that the convergence between various media and technologies would fundamentally alter the way learning would be created, packaged, and delivered to learners. His current activities are all directed toward actual implementation of these new age educational initiatives that transform education in the post Internet post WTO era.. Prof. Pant, has been a Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and has been on the faculty of IIT – Kanpur (the premier Engineering institution in India), MLNR Engineering College and Faculty & Visiting Professor - University of Western Ontario-Canada. He has been visiting scientist to research centers in Italy, England, Germany & Sweden and has delivered international lectures with about 80 papers published. During his association of almost 15 years with the IGNOU, Prof. Pant has served as the Director Computing and has been the Member of All Bodies (i.e. School boards, Academic council, Planning board, Finance committee and the Board of management). With his interest in Law, backed with practice of Law in a High Court, and his basic training in Science and IT, Prof. Pant has been particularly interested in the Cyber Law, Patent & trade mark issues, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues etc. and has been involved with many activities, conferences on “Law & IT” Prof. Pant is presently; • Advisor to Media Lab Asia - Chairman of working group on ICT for Education, chairman of PRSG handling projects on ICT for education. • Lead Consultant for an ADB funded project for ICT in Basic Education in Uzbekistan • Member of the drafting Group for India’s National Policy on ICT in education • Chairman of the group creating books for class 11 and 12 students on ‘Computers and Communication Technology’ appointed by the NCERT • Preparing a ‘Theme Paper” for the NCTE in the area of ICT and Teacher Training • Advisor and mentor to several leading Indian and Multi-national Companies in the area of education. Prof. Pant has in the recent past been ; • Member – Board of Management – I I T, Delhi for 6 years (two consecutive terms) • One-man committee to create the Project Report & Legislation for Delhi IT-enabled Open University • Advisor to the Delhi Government on Asian Network of Major Cities Project (ANMC-21) distance learning project in association with Tokyo Metropolitan Government. • Chairman Board of Studies, All India Management Association With his mission to create and implement new business opportunities in the area of e-learning & learning facilitation, Prof. Pant has promoted Planet EDU Pvt. Ltd., as its Founder & Chairman, along with a team of highly experienced and skilled professionals from Education & Training, Operations, IT and Finance.
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